By Arnaz M. Khairul
YOU can pinpoint various other reasons, but in effect, what is actually portrayed for the public eye each time Malaysia fails at glorifying itself in the four multisports events – the Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and Sea Games – the fingers eventually point to the lack of or misplaced funding.
And the now culturally accepted form of funding across the sporting ecosystem since 1994 is the taxpayer, via the Youth and Sports Ministry and its administering agency the National Sports Council (NSC).
When Malaysia returned from the 2004 Olympics in Athens without a single medal, fingers were pointed at the national programme under the NSC which failed to build on the Gemilang 2001 programme which brought then a record 111 gold medals in the 2001 Kuala Lumpur Sea Games. So, a change in minister happened and Hishammuddin Hussein was replaced by Azalina Othman Said.
This brought about a change in concept, apparently geared towards high performance and the Asiacomm programme towards the 2006 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games was hatched.
High performance was the key phrase from then on, albeit bemusing since my understanding is that all athletes are supposed to be conceptualised as high performance human beings should they seek to come anywhere near being honoured with the task of representing the country.
Nevertheless, a bevy of foreign expertise were roped in, some controversially, others eventually succumbing to controversy with an RM110 million budget swamping the programme, driving it towards the 2006 targets, which would then be reviewed as to whether Malaysia would be prepared for an assault on the Olympics, beginning with Beijing 2008.
It all ended up with a 7 gold medal haul at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games and 8 gold haul at the Doha Asian Games, the fruits of an RM110 million investment by the people, which was at that point the most expensive ever medals taxpayers had paid for.
The irony was, until then, and up to the 2012 Olympics, all Malaysia’s medals at the Olympics had been delivered by badminton, a sport which was largely funded by the corporate sector and had yet to be flush with government funding, albeit well patronised by each of three Prime Minister’s wives since 1990. That too would eventually change.
I have to stress the mention of Asiacomm 2006 here is a mere example, as the splurge of taxpayers funds subsequently would only increase to the point government allocations are now the be all end all for the vast majority of sports in Malaysia.
It was however important to note the period post turn of the century as it was seen as the period of industrialisation of global sports, where armed with the reach of sattelite TV, the internet and later gadgets and social media, sports around the world turned into economic behemoths far outweighing the expenditure any government would be willing to part with.
Malaysia instead, and till today with no end in sight, continue to recycle a concept derived from the old Eastern Bloc regimented state-funded sporting programmes, when even the former communist nations themselves have long parted with both the ideology and the sporting development regimes of yesteryear.
No doubt, at the time this concept was decided on by the government with the brains of Datuk Wira Mazlan Ahmad at the helm of NSC, the Jaya 98 programme launched in 1994 towards the KL98 Commonwealth Games, was relevant towards the sole idea of providing government backing towards delivering results in those four multisports events considered of utmost importance to cementing Malaysia’s stature as a sporting nation.
It doubled up the resources at the disposal of sports, still run by national sports associations (NSAs) and with the idea of those pinpointed to deliver results at the targeted multisports events be funded by the taxpayer in their preparation, leaving no stone unturned and given the absolute best the country could provide for.
The government back then, even tied corporate entities with selected sports through the Rakan Sukan programme, which is best left as stories untold as to why none of these lasted the test of parasites.
But 26 years on, this nobel idea, has undoubtedly become the poison apple that is the root cause of the rot in Malaysian sport.
The adage that everything in Malaysia is susceptible to abuse holds water when it comes to sport, that much is evident.
Remember the feats of Azhar Mansor’s single-handed circumnavigation on a McConaghy christened the Jalur Gemilang and Malik Mydin’s swim across the English Channel in 2002? Well, those were ideas backed by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad with the intention to spur Malaysians out of their comfort zones and prove that any of them could achieve feats till then virtually alien to them.
Instead, apart from the christening of Azhar’s boat inviting misconceptions of the administrative procedure where certain quarters read it as he himself becoming a Christian, such feats opened the floodgates to endless proposals arriving on the desks of every Youth and Sports Minister since then, who were required to approve… well, let’s just call them mostly “creative” endeavours to outdo the rest of mankind. Failing which, the said ministers would incur the wrath of public criticism for not supporting these feats by signing off the millions in taxpayers’ funds at their disposal.
The same applies to the NSAs, but they don’t treat it as a rot that has degraded the level of Malaysian sporting development to a parasitical level of dependency which even long colonised nations never succumbed to.
Instead, the leaders of these NSAs proudly parade their success in negotiating increases in budget allocations from the ministry or the approval of budgets for them to organise even junior programmes, even grassroots competitions.
From an idea intended to beef up preparations for the cream of Malaysian athletes, the NSC has regressed into an umbillical chord feeding an entire ecosystem of parasites.
NSAs slowly regressed into bodies only capable of tabling proposals for requisition of government funding through joint working committees involving the NSC, who have their logos emblazoned on virtually every banner for the majority of local sports events, meaning the sports cannot do without government funding anymore.
Gone are the marketeers, those who are willing to put their sports on the path towards industrialisation and importantly independence, which would allow them the freedom to develop their sport without the shackles of dependency on the limits of government support.
Real world sports marketing, while supposed to be carried out by NSAs bound constitutionally to their responsibility to safeguard the welfare and development of their respective sports, is virtually non existent within the confines of the comfort zones provided by ever increasing government funding in the past 26 years.
The 5 sports schools, developed initially as components of the Jaya 98 programme, are also increasingly becoming the only source of talent for most sports, with many substandard junior competitions allowing these NSAs to merely justify their existence.
Even the advent of social media that has vastly reduced the cost of basic promotions, even broadcasting of events to provide some sort of mileage and thus potential for growth, has failed to push too many out of their comfort zones, knowing their next ringgit is as simple as an approval from the 5th floor of NSC or Menara KBS in Putrajaya, or beyond that, armed with politcal connections, some claws reach as high as the PM’s Office and the various other ministries along that Putrajaya street.
No NSA goes without some sort of government funding, but their leaders take the credit for their success and when massive failures such as the Manila Sea Games last year do happen, the blame goes to any government that provides for the failure. Such is the comfort zone.
Yes, the current Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman deserves to be criticised for his ill-advised route of backing with an RM20 million budget allocation for E-Sports, which is rather dumbfounding considering that sector has built a sizeable multi-billion dollar global industry that is more than capable of funding its own development.
But beyond Syed Saddiq’s erratic ways, Malaysian sport is in dire need of reform and the reform requires a new concept which will not be comfortable for most who are stuck on the juice of this poison apple that has turned rotten.
The future, there is little doubt in my mind, depends not on how many billion ringgit more the government is will to pump into these liabilities, but on which government would put their foot down and initiate the due torment that is required to reform Malaysia’s sports industry.